Ways of Belonging in Africa: the Dynamics of Differentiation

A symposium for and with Carola Lentz

The symposium deals with an acute and politicized topic: the definitions of belonging in Africa. Current dynamic processes of differentiation bring about new social formations such as emerging middleclasses or global diasporas, but also political fragmentation and antagonisms. Individuals or groups can use ways of belonging in order to legitimate claims to material or immaterial resources, but not every form of belonging is relevant in every social situation. Plural membership is the normal case and can engender dilemmas. The symposium aims at reflecting on the entanglement of various forms of collective identities and the claims and delimitations they entail. The construction of ethnicity, for instance, is based both on historical forms of belonging and on the „invention of tradition“; it can serve as self-identification as well as for legitimizing claims to land or political participation in the local and national arena; the borders of these arenas are results of processes of inclusion and exclusion that are in turn based on constructions of ethnicity and nationality; access to those arenas is related to knowledge and power resources; the respective actors compete with one another through strategies of distinction such as education or consumption preferences etc. The symposium brings together several research strands that have been intensively pursued at the Department of Anthropology and African Studies at Mainz University, especially in projects initiated by Carola Lentz.